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October 21, 2008     The Ortonville Independent
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Tuesday, October 28th 6:00 p.m. Multi-Purpose Room at Stevens Community Medical Center Call: 320-749-2607 or Emaih sherrym@mnsurgery.com seminars are scheduled for: r-- INSTALLATION OF OFFICERS, BIG STONE COUNTY 4-H FEDERATION was held Sunday evening, Oct. 4 during the annual 4-H Achievement Program at the Clinton Memorial Building. New officers andpast officers, who were present that evening, are pictured above. Left to right: Liberty Baybridge, Andrea Burman, Audrey Souza, Haley Souza, Jennifer Henrich, Colter Combellicl~, Shelby Johnsrud, Shane Maas, Emily Burman, Abigail Knutson and Justin Athey. Presenter George M.A. Fortier IV, M.D., FACS is certified in Lap-Band procedures and has placed over 328 Lap-Band placements with a total weight loss of over 22,000 pounds (more than 8 tons). Every week these numbers increase! Will you be included? M Stevens Community Medical Center I )f"= 400 East First Street, Morris I (320) 589-1313 1-800-993-SCMC I !~ ~: ......... '~ ~'" ~::~ www ~ :~.~,- ~ ~ .scmcmoms.com I the company did their marching and close order drill in the streets of St. Pe- tersburg. On one occasion during drills in the street, as the platoon approached the intersection the sergeant who was drilling them evidently forgot the com- mand to make them stop. He shouted, "STOP!" But the men didn't stop - there was no such order. "WHOA!" yelled the sergeant. The men didn't "whoa". As the platoon continued straight ahead and over the curb the sergeant screamed, "COME BACK!" But there was no coming back either, and Gene and the rest of the platoon wound up in somebody's freshly mowed lawn. Gene remembers that it was there the men stopped. After basic training in St. Peters- burg, Gene went to advanced training in Gulfport, MS, where he worked on the Douglas C-47 at the Air Cows Air- plane Mechanics School. When he completed mechanics school he was then transferred to Salt Lake Army Air Corps Base to await his next assign- ment. From Salt Lake City, Gene was sent to Hays-Walker Airfield at Victoria, KS Gene Burdick "I thought we had everything straightened up." Gene Burdick was born Dec. 11, 1919 on a farm near Odessa. In 1921 his family moved to another farm near Clinton where Gene grew up helping with the farm work and going to coun- try school, which is located 90 miles west of In 1929 the stock market crashed Salina. This field was activated in 1942 and America found itself in severe eco- for the 2nd Air Force as a satellite field nomic depression. For farmers and of Smoky Hill AAF in Salina, KS, for small towns in the Midwest the drought training of heavy bomber crews, pri- added more challenges. Farming in the marily B-17s & B-24s. Walker was fur- 1930s on the Great Plains was perhaps ther expanded in 1943 to encompass a the most difficult occupation in the total of 1,888 acres, to prepare for its world. Farmers not only faced a global new mission as one of four fields in Kansas intended to train B-29 bomber economic slow down of historic pro- portions, but they also faced one of the crews, the B-29 being too heavy for worst and longest droughts in Amer- regular airfields of that time. ica's history. People had no money to At Walker, Gene was assigned to buy the crops and animals that farmers the motor pool where he did mechanic produced, and the drought made it al- work, drove a staff car for officers and most impossible to plant and harvest drove truck. As truck driver, Gene the crops in the first place. In 1934, in would drive from the base to Salina to the middle of the great depression and pick up food and supplies and the base the drought that gripped the Midwest, laundry, and leave a new batch to be Gene's father sold their farm and cleaned.- moved to Ortonville. One day, while at work in the motor In Ortonville, Gene's dad started a pool, a call came in - a B-17 had crash trucking business and, at 15, Gene quit landed in a farm field after missing the school and washed cars for a local car landing strip. There were injured men, dealer for $2.50 a week. He worked at perhaps some seriously, and doctors his job six days a week and the money were needed immediately. Gene took he earned was used to help the family the cdll and responded immediately, make ends meet. When he reached climbed behind the wheel of a 1940 driving age, Gene helped with the busi- Ford sedan and headed for the base in- ness, driving truck for his father, firmary to pick up the doctors who War with Japan and then Germany would be waiting for him there. broke out in Dec. of 1941 and Gene After the doctors scrambled into the was called to duty in Oct. of 1942. He car, Gene took off, jamming the accel- took the bus to Ft. Snelling and was in- erator to the floorboard and headed ducted into the armed services and as- down the street, aiming the Ford to- signed to the United States Army Air wards the crash site five miles out of Corps. There was an immediate need town. for men, and, for Gene, there would be It would be as close as Airman Gene no trip back home. He was immedi- Burdick, the mechanic and part-time ately sent to Camp MacDill in St. Pc- truck driver, would get to flying-and tersburg, FL. probably the doctors as well. In order There was a shortage of training fa- to control the flow of runoff water, the cilities at the beginning of the war and citizens of Victoria, KS, had decided to the War Department's solution was to save money by excavating dips in the quarter servicemen in Florida's coast street before paving instead of using hotels. "The best hotel room is none the more conventional system of cul- too good for the American soldier." verts. As Airman Gene approached the With this comment, Under Secretary of dips at full speed, he gripped the steer- War Robert P. Patterson in 1942 an- ing wheel harder, knowing what the re- swered critics of his plan to use resort suit would be - a "whump" and a hotels for military training facilities. So momentary release from gravity that it was that in Oct. 1942, enlisted man, hurled the Ford and its occupants up- Gene Burdick, arrived in St. Petersburg wards, returning same to the pavement and given a room to share with three with a loud thump and screech of tires. others at the Phyle Hotel. The doctors, not having anything to Not only was the War Department grab onto, except each other, were re- short of living quarters for new re- peatedly bounced off the roof of the cruits, there was also a shortage of car, one shouting that he thought his training facilities. Gene and the rest of back was broken. The story has a happy ending - the doctors were delivered in record time and the injured crewmembers of the downed B-17 were treated in a most timely manner, all of whom recovered and returned to service. The doctors may have treated one another after at- tending to the B-17 crew, but this is not known for sure. One thing that is known for sure is the MP report which stated that this event was the first time that doctors had arrived at a crash scene before the MPs. This part of Gene's story has an epi- log: after returning to the motor pool, Gene noticed that the Ford he had been piloting was equipped with recapped tires. Recapping tires had been a ne- cessity of rubber shortages during WW II and, in some instances, continues to this day. Recapped tires, while being deemed serviceable, are not the safest because the recap could, and does, sep- arate from the body of the original tire as fatigue eventually loosens the vul- canizing. The reader may have seen shards of recaps lying along the high- ways, or, more particularly, along in- terstate highways where trucks travel at higher speeds. issue further. "They could taxi the plane from the field onto the road," Gene suggested, "and they could take off from the road - it's strong enough to handle the B-17." This did not con- vince the officers and after some more discussion among themselves, Gene drove them back to the base. The story ends a few days later. Gene is driving down the same road and sees a B-17 flying low, back to the base, as if it had just taken off. It had. It was the same plane with new props and it had taken off on the road. The war in the Pacific was heating up. America was now on the offensive and more men were being sent to the Theater to bolster the massive push to- ward the Japanese homeland. Gene was given orders and sent to Salt Lake City where he would await his next as- signment; which, he knew, would be somewhere in the South Pacific: From Salt Lake City he was sent to San Fran- cisco, his last stop before heading across the ocean. It was early summer of 1944. Gene remembers the voyage as being boring. Fortunately, he didn't get seasick like so many others and he said he managed that by walking constantly. The ship zigzagged its way across the ocean, changing course every seven minutes. The wisdom of the time de- clared that it took seven minutes for a submarine to get a fix on its target, so, to avoid being sunk by a torpedo, the target changed course every seven min- utes. Gene knew about tire fatigue and he The men were told by officers that knew there probably would be another , if anyone fell overboard, there would rescue mission of some sort, so he de- be no rescue. The ship would not risk cided to replace the recaps on the Ford with new tires. Of course there weren't any available at the motor pool, every- thing rubber being in short supply, so he did the next best thing. He "moon- lighted" four new tires from a vehicle he found in the engineer's company, trading back the four recaps from the Ford. .Gene was then transferred to Mc- Cook Army Air Base at McCook, NE. There he drove a Reo truck pulling two tank trailers havirlg a capacity of 8000 gallons. McCook was a training base for heavy bombers and Gene hauled the fuel that made them go. It took 9000 gallons to fill a B-29. There were lots of bombers at McCook and Gene and his Reo made the trip from the storage tanks to the field several times, every day, day in and day out. 'q'he hardest thing I ever had to do was to learn how to back up that Reo with two trailers." Gene said. "The truck was huge, by the standards of those days, and with those two trailers it was like pushing a piece of rope backwards -it bent in two places and it didn't go where you wanted it to go. But I got it down right and after that I was ok." Gene was transferred back to Victo- ria and rejoined the motor pool where he had worked on his previous assign- ment there. Not long after returning there was another B-17 crash landing, this time along side the road leading to the base. Gene was called at the motor pool to get a car and drive staff officers to the crash site so they could make an evaluation of the situation. They arrived at the crash scene and after surveying the situation, the gen- eral decided that the engineers should be sent out to cut the telephone lines and remove the poles so that the B-17 could be hauled out. Some of the other officers suggested that the B- 17 be dis- mantled and hauled back to the base on trucks. After some deliberation, the general asked Gene what he would do. Gene thought that the simplest solution was to jack the plane up, lower the wheels, put new props on the plane and fly it out. Gene's idea was met with a re- sounding "NOt NO! That would be impossible!" But Gene pressed the | staying in one position long enough to pick up anyone who fell overboard. One man did go oyer one night while dumping garbage over the side. The ship lurched and threw the man over as he held the garbage can over the rail- ing. Gene remembers KP duty well - he drew the night shift. He saw his first flying fish in the moonlight as he emp- tied garbage cans. He recalls that they looked like pheasants flying near the bow of the ship. To keep from getting seasick he walked the decks when he wasn't in the kitchen, then he would re- turn and make coffee in large kettles for the crew. Fresh water was at a premium dur- ing the voyage. The desalinization equipment could only make so much fresh water from the ocean water it drew in for processing. Each person aboard ship was allotted one canteen of water for drinking per day. No one could take a shower and they were al- ways thirsty. Relief came in the form of rain squalls that passed over the ship and the men would strip and stand in the rain, quickly soaping up to take ad- vantage of nature's shower. They also collected runoff rain in pails to supple- ment their drinking water supply. They arrived at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea in the summer of 1944. The Japanese airfields near Hollandia had been taken by American forces and these would be used by the USAAF bombers and escort fighters during the invasion of the Philippine Islands. But the airfields had suffered much damage during the American assault and would have to be repaired before they could effectively be used. Two things stood in the way of the airfield repair job: the weather and General MacArthur. First, the weather affected the progress of any operation in the tropics. The rainfall at Hollan- dia averaged between 130 and 140 inches per year. So much rain fell that roads were turned to muck and stayed that way for long stretches of time. Equipment bogged down as soldiers navigated the sloppy mess beneath them, whether on foot or in the driver's seat of a truck or piece of construction equipment. Also, tropical heat and endless rain caused mold to quickly form on everything, caking uniforms, tents, sleeping cots and almost every- thing else in a musty crud. Besides the mold, rain 6aused rust on .everything made of metal, and so the men were constantly oiling and polishing bare metal parts of arms and equipment. All moving parts had to be greased and oiled in a never-ending cycle, day after day. The second, and perhaps more de- moralizing reason the airfields were not repaired was the Commander of the south Pacific forces, General MacArthur. His headquarters was to be set up at Hollandia and he had cho- sen a colonial estate built by a Dutch rubber company in the early 1900's for the overseer and staff of the plantation. The elegance and aristocratic setting of the mansion was located at the top of the highest hill in the valley, Queen Hill, named after Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands, and nothing less would be fitting for the stature and ego of General MacArthur. The Seabees were ordered to complete the head- quarters before moving on to airfield repair. Gene drove a truck loaded with sup- plies to be used for "renovation" of the mansion. "I could barely make it up the hill in a 6X6 (six wheel drive truck)." Gene remembers. "But the general wanted his house and we worked long and hard to get it ready for him." Finally, the general's headquarters was ready and the Seabees went to work on the air- field which was to be used by bombers during the recapture of the Philippine Islands. Work continued until Oct. of 1944 when the airfields were deemed ready for the invasion of the Philippines. Gene and his company were readied for the landing and given new trucks to carry supplies and ammunition from the beach to the troops fighting at the front lines. They made the trip from New Guinea to Leyte in LST (Landing Ship Tank), the same type of craft that El- wood Throndrud was on at that time. In fact Elwood was there somewhere, and Leonard Olson was near by on a PT boat. Bob Barr was there too, as were Bob Larson, Jim Geier, Vince Stegner, Bob Schreiner, Bud Tilbury, Paul Lindahl and Roger Nolop. Bud Robertson was back on Bougainville and would soon be sent to Guam. Maynard Nelson would fall at Leyte. To be sure there were other locals in the Philippine Campaign, but, at this writ- ing, the above are the ones we are aware of. A D-7 bulldozer was the last piece of equipment loaded on the LST. It would be the first off the ship when the forward ~toor dropped, and the D7 would drop its blade and plow a road up the beach and into the jungle as far as it could. When the bulldozer stopped, it was just left in place, aban- doned because it was of no further use. Engineers or Seabees would continue clearing a road to the inner plains of Leyte Island where the Japanese forces waited in well prepared defensive po- sitions. Gene, along with the rest of the drivers pushed their trucks forward, following the troops further inlatid, struggling in the boggy ground. Intel- ligence had not discovered that the Leyte subsoil was soft and soaked with tropical rain and unable to support trucks heavily loaded with supplies. The trucks sunk in the mud and stalled, unable to move or be retrieved from the bogs. Gene and the rest would go back to Hollandia to get their old trucks and return to Leyte where they would re- sume supplying the troops at the front. Back at the landing beach, trucks were loaded with gasoline and ammu- nition. The trucks were rated for two tons of load capacity, but they were carrying five tons of supplies - it was tough going for the American forces and they needed lots of supplies and they needed them now. Gene said that after the trucks were loaded they would have to wait for orders to go, and that " was the hardest part. "We would wait and wait, and we would do anything to get going." The waiting was hard enough,just sitting and waiting, but be- sides just the waiting around was the fact that the trucks were on the beach and the Japanese knew they were there. Whenever they could, the Japanese would send their airplanes to strafe and bomb the supply areas. It was not easy just sitting there - like a duck on the pond. After getting the "GO" signal, the trucks would take off in small convoys, heading to the front to deliver supplies, gasoline and ammunition. Along the way snipers who had infiltrated to the rear of American lines would take pot shots at the trucks and enemy airplanes would make strafing runs on the con- voy whenever they could. Moonlight nights were bad too because the planes would come more often when trucks were more visible. One night, while driving back to the supply area Japan- ese planes dropped blockbuster bombs on the convoy. Gene gunned his truck to a revetment, a walled area which is reinforced against explosives, and made it inside as the bombs exploded all around. "The flashes were intense and the explosions were deafening," Gene said, "and I wasn't so sure I was safe inside the wall surrounded by tons and tons of ammunition." In torrential rains and over difficult terrain, the advance continued across Leyte. By Jan., 1945, although fierce fighting continued on Leyte for months, the U.S. Army was in control. Gene's next stop would be Okinawa, the Pacific island where, arguably, the fiercest battle of the Pacific Theater was fought. The island of Okinawa lies just 400 miles south of Japan. The Japanese had used the island for air bases since it had started the Asia-Pacific War in the 1930's. Approximately 300,000 thou- sand Okinawans called it home. The Allies of World War II looked to it as a natural stepping stone in its advance to- ward Japan. The Japanese looked to it as its last hope of taking control of the Pacific. The landing at Okinawa was made on Apr. 1, 1945. It would be the last major campaign of World War II. At Okinawa Gene drove truck to move supplies to Marines and regular Army troops as they advanced across the island. It was tough going and the hours were long and hazardous for any American on Okinawa. There were 300,000 citizens on Okinawa and they had all been drafted by the Japanese Imperial Army to fight against the American invaders. From April through June of 1945 American forces encountered a fierce and determined enemy determined to fight to the very end. Gene and his company worked every day supplying the front with the supplies they needed. In July Gene's company was moved to one of the smaller islands off Oki- nawa to await the invasion of the Japanese homeland. On Aug. 12 an of- ricer informed them that Japan had sur- rendered. The war was over. Back in Okinawa Gene heard that something called an atomic bomb had been used by America to end the war. Although. they really didn't know what an atomic bomb was, Gene and the rest of the men were zlad America had used it. The war was over and the killing would end. There was no need to invade the Japanese mainland. Gene landed in Tokyo in Sept., 1945. "The devastation was unbeliev- able," Gene said. "Everything was bombed to nothing and you knew that nobody lived there. But then one would appear and we would give them cigarettes or candy and suddenly they came out of the woodwork! We gave them what we had, candy and ciga- rettes and rations until we ran out. They were nice people, really. They were nice to us. At first they were fear- ful because they had been told that we would kill them, but, of course, we wouldn't do that. The war was over." One touch of America that Gene en- joyed during those first months of oc- cupation duty was a rodeo the servicemen put together. "They didn't have much for horses, but they did have a couple of broncos and we did what we could - it was fun and the Japanese enjoyed it too, I think." Gene was discharged in 1946 and returned home where he resumed a normal life. He even had time to ride a few horses over the years: Gene summed up by saying, "I thought we had everything straightened out, but af- terwards there was Korea and Viet Nam, The Gulf War and now there's Iraq. We fixed everything up in World War II, but .... ", and then his voice trailed off. Maybe everything isn't fixed up today, and maybe it never will be. But one thing is for sure and that is that those who served and today serve in our armed forces have and are giving a piece of their lives so that the rest of us can live in freedom. We can do no bet- ter thing than to fix things up to honor" the sacrifices they made. ii ! Page ,6 INDEPENDENT Tuesday, Oct. 21,2008 r,